The Philadelphia Eagles are now 13-2 in the 2017 NFL regular season schedule after defeating the Oakland Raiders on Christmas by a final score of 19 to 10. Here’s a look at some things we learned from this game.
1 - THE EAGLES FINISHED ON TOP OF THE NFC IN THE REGULAR SEASON
For a brief moment, I ask that you put aside the fact that the Eagles played a very ugly game on Monday night. Take a second to recognize what the Eagles have done this season is special.
It’s not every year you go 13-2. It’s not every year you clinch the No. 1 seed.
If the Eagles are able to beat the Cowboys in a meaningless Week 17 game, they’ll reach 14 wins in a season for the first time in franchise history. That’s special.
The road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Philadelphia. All the Eagles need to do is win two home games in order to get to the biggest game of the year. Philly is 13-2 at Lincoln Financial Field in the Doug Pederson era.
There’s some reason for hope.
2 - IT’S NOT FAIR
The preceding point is the optimistic view. There’s obviously plenty of reason to be skeptical about this Eagles team.
Over the past two games, the Eagles just haven’t looked like a team that’s ready to win in the playoffs. They’ve mightily struggled against two non-playoff teams. They’re probably not going to be able to get away with playing so poorly when they face better teams.
It’s not surprising that the Eagles have struggled without their 2017 NFL MVP candidate, Carson Wentz. We knew these struggles were bound to happen without him. But being prepared for the downfall doesn’t make it suck any less.
It’s just not fair, man. This really could’ve been the year they won it all. And maybe they still can, who knows. But it just doesn’t feel like that right now, the way it did before Wentz got hurt.
Eagles fans have been robbed of fully enjoying the team’s accomplishments this year. Wentz’s injury overshadowed their NFC East clinch. A terrible defensive outing against New York took away the thunder from their first-round bye clinch. And then the Eagles clinched the No. 1 seed in probably the least impressive fashion ever. In most seasons, those are extremely satisfying and jubilant moments. Not this year, though. It’s just not the same.
To be honest, it’s really hard to know how to feel. The Eagles are doing some special things this season. But it’s hard to enjoy it with the growing dread that they’re looking like a potential one-and-done in the playoffs.
3 - NICK FOLES IS BAD
Here’s how Foles performed at home against a Raiders defense that ranked 32nd overall by Football Outsiders and 27th in opponent yards per play:
19/38 (50%), 163 yards (4.3 average), 1 TD, 1 INT, 59.4 passer rating.
That’s terrible. And those stats don’t reflect that Reggie Nelson dropped a potential pick six on a very bad Foles throw to Zach Ertz on an out route.
Upon pointing out Foles’ bad stats on Twitter, I received a litany of excuses for his struggles.
“He did enough to win the game!” — If relying on the defense to force five turnovers in one half is “doing enough,” then yeah, I guess he did.
“It was cold and windy!” — It might even be colder in the playoffs.
“The receivers weren’t getting open!” — Just not true. And even if it was, Alshon Jeffery is a wide receiver who was brought in to make contested catches. Yet he only got two targets.
“The offensive line was bad!” — Again, not true. Foles took sacks when he held on to the ball for too long.
“It was one bad game!” — Sure, Foles looked better against the Giants. But he still left easy plays on the field, which I wrote about last week. Those issues were magnified on Monday. They’re the same issues that have been there his entire career.
And so on.
The defense of Foles is pretty ridiculous to me. I just don’t get the appeal with him. For those of you that do like him: what makes you eagerly rush to defend him?
In this view, he just doesn’t do anything all that well. This much was apparent on Monday. He was inaccurate. He made very poor decisions.
Nick Foles could’ve ran himself or thrown to 1 of several options for a 1st down. Instead, he THREW THE BALL AWAY HERE. pic.twitter.com/4f90Ne3EHP— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) December 26, 2017
I just can’t believe people actually wanted this guy to be the Eagles’ franchise quarterback.
Anyway, it’s certainly possible Foles doesn’t play this bad moving forward. We’ve certainly seen him put up good numbers before.
But the downside of Foles being a high variance player, if you want to call him that, is there are going to be games like this Raiders one. And with three games needed to win the Super Bowl, he could easily be bad for one of them and then the Eagles’ season will likely be over. He really needs everything else to be going right around him or else the team is doomed.
4 - MISSING CARSON WENTZ
The drop-off from Wentz to Foles is so massive from an aesthetic standpoint. Wentz was a pleasure to watch. Watching Foles just sucks the fun out of the games. It’s miserable.
But as for the impact on the team, it’s clear the biggest drop-off from Wentz to Foles is Philadelphia’s third down success. The Eagles went 1/14 on third down on Monday night. They just couldn’t stay on the field. Wentz was great at turning third-and-long into first downs. Foles hasn’t been able to do that, which is why he’s a backup.
5 - THE DEFENSE STEPPED UP
Well, at least the defense is back. The feeling going into this game is that Jim Schwartz’s unit was bound to bounce back at home. And they did.
They came up pretty big in this game with only 10 points allowed and five turnovers forced. Much better than last week’s Giants game.
The defensive line, which needs to be the strength of the team if the Eagles are going to make a run, was able to force Derek Carr into bad decisions. Chris Long came up with a big strip-sack, although it would’ve been nice if he recovered the ball instead of prematurely celebrating. At least he apologized for that.
Evidently I had too much Mountain Dew— Chris Long (@JOEL9ONE) December 26, 2017
The forced fumbles by Malcolm Jenkins and Vinny Curry/Mychal Kendricks were also big. So were the interceptions by Patrick Robinson and Ronald Darby (more on that next). You have to be proud of the way the defense battled.
With that said, they were far from perfect. Jalen Mills bit on the sluggo yet again to allow a wide open touchdown for Amari Cooper. Teams are going to continue to take advantage of his aggression. Philadelphia’s run defense also allowed a 34-yard gain by Jalen Richard. They have to eliminate these big plays.
The Eagles were lucky to get bailed out on Carr’s deep pass to Cooper that got wiped away by a holding penalty. Philadelphia had three defenders in the area but the wide receiver made the play on a jump ball.
So while it was an overall encouraging performance by the defense, there were still some cracks that showed.
6 - RONALD DARBY REDEEMED HIMSELF
Darby was really frustrated after playing poorly against the Giants in Week 15. He bounced back in a big way against the Raiders. The interception was obviously crucial. He also made some good tackles on screens. Darby finished the game with two receptions allowed for 13 yards. He hasn’t been perfect, no, but he’s made some real big contributions to this team upon returning from injury. He saved Christmas!
7 - THE EAGLES NEED MORE RUNNING PRODUCTION
Some have criticized Doug Pederson for abandoning the run game. I think that argument ignores context.
The Raiders clearly made adjustments after the Eagles had success running the ball early on. Philadelphia tried to get the run game going at times but all it did was set them back for long second down situations. Which then put them in long third down situations. Which then prevented them from getting first downs.
Look, I’m all for running the ball. But it’s not just about the Eagles doing it more often. It’s about them doing it better. Because if they do the latter, the former will come. And it’d be great to rely on that run game in order to prevent Foles from having to throw the ball as much.
A more productive run game would go a long way in the post-season.
8 - THE EAGLES HAVE A NEW MIDDLE LINEBACKER
Dannell Ellerbe is the Eagles’ new MLB. He didn’t seem to play all that great in his first start with Philly, but he did make a big run stop. I’d also argue he gives this team more than Joe Walker and Najee Goode at this point.
9 - JAKE ELLIOTT IS AN ODD KICKER
Elliott is clutch as hell when it comes to big kicks, but he misses some of the easy ones. What’s up with that?